Tuesday, 16 March 2010

the way of snow

This month's RPG Carnival is hosted by Questing GM who has assigned the quest of how to be a better GM.  We've recently had the worst snowfall for 30-odd years and it changed a number of things including my outlook on what makes a game experience fun.  Snowfall has a number of attributes that makes for fun game play and these can be adapted by an enterprising GM seeking to improve their game.

Choices - Being flexible enough to establish alternate actions and their rewarding outcomes makes a good GM.  Snow allows this by having multiple ways you can play.  A good GM does this by considering alternate ways to give essential information, having more than one way to resolve a plot arc or preparing alternate plans for the unexpected.  Players will love you if you are flexible enough to provide more than one option to pursue and collaboration is key to roleplaying games.  Equally if players make choices that enhance the game then encourage and reward that.

Consequences  - Playing in snow makes you cold.  Being hit by a snowball or falling off a sledge shows that the white stuff carries an element of risk.  And of course there's falling into snow - a hazard for some, how you make snow angels for others.  A good GM lets events build on and feed off previous player actions.     These can be good, bad or both and always interesting.  Tracy Hickman in XDM tells the story of his barbarian finally snapping under the weight of a super-paranoid party and smashing the door down.  This led to hours of hilarious consequences and helped liven up the game.

Consistent - Being consistent with your interactions, rulings and scheduling game sessions makes for happy players and a happier GM.  Within that consistency is a continuum of variation, intensity can be ramped up or down, levels of character immersion may shift but a baseline helps build trust within a group.  Just like snowfall over time means that you get deep, crisp and even environments to play in, consistent behaviour provides a gaming environment players can trust themselves enough to let go.  Consistency lets players commit to the game and build their characters.

Permission - Snow lets you do your own thing.  Making snowmen, having snowball fights, snow angels and sledging are all acceptable uses.  The GM is often seen as an entertainer - while it's true, this isn't directing a movie.  Critical Hits points out that the players have the power and that is one of the big strengths of tabletop RPGs - the players can influence things in ways that demand human mediation.  The players and the GM share the game experience and a smart GM allows the players to do some of the lifting, especially if it pertains to their character.  Equally, a smart GM must be ready to draw the line if a player gets a little too zealous giving their character ultimate power.

Persistence - Numerous games start out with a frenzied burst of preparation.  Then periods of adjustment as players make a contribution to the environment (or not - see Permission) and it's easy to let preparation slide.  Campaign Mastery waxes lyrical when asking GMs to be like snow - persistent preparation pays dividends and lets you adjust to games more rapidly than by doing extended sessions of prep where the probability of burnout or unproductive time increases the longer you stare at a blank page.  Persistence will also let you develop as a GM, remember 'to get to Carnegie you gotta practice!'

Pervasiveness - Snow is universally understood. The appeal of tabletop RPGs may be a little more arcane though the essential principle is a structured version of 'Let's Pretend'.  Game tables and play environments can vary greatly - there is no requirement for a specific board or pieces as long as a rough representation is there - dice can be simulated by paper chits, randomly moving your pencil over a paper grid of numbers or using your iPhone's dice rolling app.  This essential flexibility could not be experienced in gaming environments like World of Warcraft where you're tied to a computer with an Internet connection to play.

Transformation - Snow changes the environment for a time - probably a good thing because a gaming Ice Age would be... disturbing.   A GM can transform their gaming environment using simple props (handouts), set dressing (lighting, sound effects) and techniques (voices, facial expressions) so that players can find that space.  Game features like minigames can keep players on their toes.  One of the more memorable games I've played in involved a solitaire board in an Egyptian-themed dungeon.  The clues were written on the wall - the fewer balls left on the board, the fewer poisoned darts would be fired and if we won, no darts would be fired at all.  Suddenly, the players got very interested because of that change.


  1. Nice post. I think consistency and being willing to run games (and frequently) are points commonly overlooked. Great tips!

  2. We don't have snow in Borneo but reading this analogy of snowfall with GMing is.....refreshing.

    Nice post and thanks for your contribution.

  3. I think you've summed up a ton of great GMing advice in this post.

    I don't even try to hold a candle to you, but my contribution to the clam bake is here: http://latetotheparty.ca/?p=221


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Greatest Hits